Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘students’

On my wish list: Writing Speculative Fiction

A book I covet has just been published.

Author Eugen Bacon is here to tell me all about it.

Welcome to Something to Say, Eugen! Can you tell me about your book, published this month by MacMillan?

Eugen: Writing Speculative Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches is an accessible read about vibrant storytelling of speculative fiction that crosses genre.

It’s a cross-disciplinary book that scrutinises the characteristics of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and considers the potential of literary speculative fiction.

Eugen Bacon 2

Eugen Bacon Author

That sounds wonderful. As a genre-hopper myself, I’m fascinated by insights into all of these. Is there one aspect of this book that you relate to most?

I really love this book because it is a reader’s paradise. It has vignettes and excerpts and samplers from renowned artists and novice students. It has writing exercises at the end of each chapter. It offers provocative and useful insights on speculative fiction, moving—as one reviewer professed—‘between ideas and stories, between analysis and narrative’. It is a book that celebrates amazing authors like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler, and supreme theorists like Roland Barthes and Simone de Beauvoir in embracing the pleasure of the text, and writing about the ‘other’.

I’m sold! I want my copy asap (but you have to sign it for me). What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?

Dominique Hecq, a wonderful friend and mentor (she was my doctorate supervisor), articulates it best. She says that she writes to answer incipient questions troubling her mind, or to relieve some form of anxiety where cause may not yet be symbolised. She states, ‘I write because I must do so, exhilarating, detestable or painful though this might be.’

Like Hecq, I write to… find.

Writing Speculative Fiction

You write with very fluid genre borders yourself, of course.

How do you do it? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline.

What can you say about your process?

My approach to the compositional space is with excitement, with a sense of urgency, with a knowing that writing is an active speaking. Writing is a search, a journey, a coming through. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and then the writing shapes itself.

Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Experimental. Inventful. Bold. Otherness. Poetic.

Eugen, thank you so much for having Something to Say!

Here’s an invitation for us all! Put it in your diary.

Please join Eugen at her Melbourne Book Launch on 1 August at Readings in Hawthorn! Eugen will launch her new spec fiction, Claiming T-Mo (more about that soon) and also celebrate the release of Writing Speculative Fiction.

I will be there :-), having my copies signed. Can hardly wait.

Twitter: @EugenBacon

Writing exercise: back stories

Here’s an exercise that can help you get from an idea to a piece of flash fiction, from flash fiction to short story, and from a short story to a novel (or trilogy!).

I am often asked how I got from the short story “Man/Machine/Dog” to the novel The Pale, and this is one of my favourite techniques.

It also works to reduce writer’s block and start your imagination. All you need to start is one word. Give yourself a minimum 10 minutes to try this exercise, and let me know what you finished up with.

Step One:

Come up with a name. Just one name. [Betty or Blip or Foxy or Xianny, Miko or Tehuano or Dot. It doesn’t matter.] Write it down.

Step Two:

Give me FIVE adjectives to describe Blip. Just five, and as quick as you can. Don’t over work this part. [Blip is old, crabby, tired, inventive and smart.]

Step Three:

Answer these four questions:

  1. WHEN is Blip?
  2. WHERE is Blip?
  3. WHAT is Blip doing?
  4. WHY is Blip doing it?

[Blip lives in the twelfth century. She’s in a monastery. She’s trying to steal a scroll. She wants to learn to read.]

Step Four:

Who are Blip’s parents? Give me two more names. [Betty and Nomo.]

Step Five:

You have created a character and you know quite a lot about that character. Now write FIVE sentences to create a small story about your character.

Step Six:

Have a look at your five sentences. Now decide what, if anything, you as a writer can do with the results of your exercise.

For example, do your five sentences already form a piece of flash fiction? Do you want to write more about this character and her situation? Can you fill in more details about her parents, using the same technique? Can you create another character, using the same technique, and join their stories? Do you want to ditch the character, but work on the situation? Can you use what you’ve written as a back story to ground another idea?

Writing, for me, is a bit like creating an iceberg, that thing that you only see the top bit of. There’s a lot more backstory than ever appears in the final piece of work that is presented to the reader. Even if you never use the work you have done today, at least you have exercised your imagination and your writing skills. The best way to write more is to, um, write more!

Today’s great photo is by Ian Myles, from Flickr at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/imphotography/6953920766/

Five questions, a writing exercise, and a picture

Today’s wonderful image is from WallUp Wallpaper Images

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to some creative writing students at Victoria University, in the western suburns of my hometown Melbourne.

Being trapped in the spotlight in a room full of other writers felt a bit daunting, so instead of just reading from my book and then expecting discussion, I structured my given hour around reading, writing, questioning and visualising fiction.

In this post, I’ll look at the questions I prepared and the answers we discussed. These are the five questions I am most often asked since The Pale was published:

  1. Where do you get your ideas?
  2. What made you want to write about this?
  3. How did you go from a short story to an 80,000 word novel?
  4. How did you find a publisher?
  5. How do you sell books?

My ideas come from the real world and from dreams. (I find my dream stories have had better success in finding publication – but that topic is for another post!) In the case of The Pale, in 2014 I had a dream that I was locked inside a wire compound and that there was a crying baby on the ground outside the gate. Nobody would let me go out to pick up the baby, and eventually it was left to my old German Shepherd dog, 15-y-o Dinny, who arrived suddenly at the baby’s side and rescued it.

The morning after the dream, I wrote the first draft of Man/Machine/Dog, which was published in Overland 215, Winter 2014.

What made me want to write about this dream was the refugee crisis, in particular Australia’s response, which I continue to find deeply distressing. (More information at the Refugee Council of Australia.)

From short story to novel took me almost a year and I did this mostly by writing backstory for all the characters. I created a writing exercise around this for the students which I will outline in a later post.

Finding a publisher was a pitted path. After the story was published, a start-up sci-fi publisher asked about the novel (which I had not written!). The first draft, which I sent to them, was seriously under-done and rightly rejected. Many revisions later, after learning more about the industry by attending workshops at Writers Victoria, I searched for a publisher willing to accept unsolicited submissions electronically (who wants to pay postage on a novel-sized project?). I sent a much re-worked version to Odyssey Books and was thrilled to be accepted for publication. I have some tips for organising and surviving your submissions – but that too is for a later post.

Selling books is quite hard. There is so much excellent competition out there, and marketing is not a core skill for me. It took me quite some time to grow a writerly skin which allowed me to submit my writing (poor shivering creature!) to publishers, and I am aiming now to grow a marketing persona. There are a number of associated activities that authors can undertake to help sell their books, and I will outline some of these in a later post. I can’t do everything, but I can always do something to help my book get into the hands of readers.

Speaking of which (shameless plug alert), if you’re in the market for a gripping read in dystopian sci-fi, you can buy The Pale here, or at the usual places, like Booktopia or Amazon.